Thor Nystrom

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Kickoff Weekend ATS Picks

Friday, August 25, 2017




Colorado State (-4) vs. Oregon State


Straight Up:  
Image result for oregon state cbs sports logo

 
 

Against the Spread:


 Image result for oregon state cbs sports logo


 

Analysis:


I used to cover baseball for a living, first for MLB.com and next for Rotoworld. Baseball is good fun, but covering it every day can become tedious because no one game matters much until October.

 

I now cover college football for a living. It’s thrilling. Almost every game fascinates me, because most of them mean something. One game in a college football season is equivalent to 13.5 games on the 162-game MLB schedule.

 

You’ll never see a must-win game baseball game in August, but you’ll see a must-win college football game in August. This is one of them. Oregon State is a frisky bowl darkhorse. But only if they win this game. Lose to the Rams, and your primary 2017 goal goes up in flames before the calendar flips to September.

 

Think I’m being melodramatic? Consider that Oregon State will play Minnesota, (at) Washington State, Washington, (at) USC, Colorado, Stanford, Arizona State and (at) Oregon later this season. Heck, road games against Cal and Arizona aren’t freebies either.

 

The road to six wins must begin with Colorado State, a fact the Oregon State staff no doubt knows well. The Beavers made personnel improvement since last year’s 4-8 campaign ended, and they started to build momentum at the tail end of that season by blowing out Arizona and then upsetting Oregon in the finale.

 

The Beavers added four-star QB Jake Luton from the JUCO ranks, and they lured RB Thomas Tyner out of retirement. Tyner, who transferred over as a grad from the hated Ducks, will compliment bruising starter Ryan “Wrecking” Nall.

 

Luton has a strong receiving corps to work with. Even though starting slot Seth Collins is out for this one, Jordan Villamin and Isaiah Hodgins form one of the Pac-12’s scariest outside duos (both are 6’4 or taller). The defense showed improvement last year (allowing 30.5 ppg one year after surrendering 37.0 ppg), and will be even better in 2017 with eight returning starters entering their second year in a new system. The pass defense was actually stellar in 2016, finishing No. 26. Can the No. 102 rush defense make strides?

 

Colorado State is coming off a 7-6 finish and a bowl appearance. The offense was a revelation, finishing No. 30 in the nation. Nick Stevens led the MWC in passing efficiency and set the school record with a 64.2-percent completion percentage, Michael Gallup came out of nowhere to emerge as one of the country’s best receivers, and the Rams complimented the aerial attack with a strong 1-2 rushing punch (Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Matthews).

 

Whereas Oregon State’s defense had a specific Achilles heel last year, Colorado State’s entire unit was awful. The Rams had no problems stopping teams that could only do one thing well, like UTSA, Utah State, UNLV and Fresno State. But they were lost against decent to good offenses, giving up 44 to Colorado, 31 to Minnesota, 38 to Wyoming and 49 to Air Force. The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl saw the defensive charge get particularly exposed in an embarrassing 61-50 loss to Idaho.

 

Colorado State is a solid mid-major team that will make another bowl trip by holding serve against inferior teams. I’m just not convinced that Oregon State is inferior. The formula to beating CSU was established last year: Be able to do multiple things well on offense and you’ll score at will on the defense, forcing the Rams to get out of their comfort zone on offense. We know OSU will be able to run; Nall and Tyner form a top-25 NCAA running back duo. We don’t yet know much about Luton, but if the recruiting hype is real, he’ll quickly level-up an aerial attack that is already stocked at receiver.

 

On top of all of that, this is a weird spot for Colorado State. They open at home against an unsexy 4-8 Oregon State squad, and then they turn around to play hated rival Colorado in Denver on Friday. The rivalry game against the Buffaloes is a revenge scenario for CSU. If they’re already thinking about it, they’re going to be in for a rude awakening on Saturday.

 

UMass (-1.5) vs. Hawaii


Straight Up:  

Image result for umass logo

 
 

Against the Spread:


 Image result for umass logo


 

Analysis:


 

What a road trip to kick off the season: The Rainbow Warriors’ campus is 5,000 miles away from Amherst. That’s 10-and-a-half hours by plane. Hawaii eked out a 46-40 win in last year’s rendition of this game in Honolulu. Saturday’s game kicks off at 6 PM EST. That’s noon in Hawaii.

 

Hawaii traditionally is a team to play at home and fade on the road because of its unique travel requirements. The Rainbow Warriors showed improvements in making a bowl game last year; even so, they’ve lost nine of their last 12 road games.

 

Though UMass hasn’t won more than three games in eight years, they have the talent to do so this year. Specifically on offense. HC Mark Whipple has a keeper in QB Andrew Ford, and Ford has plenty of toys to work with in RB Marquis Young, WR Andy Isabella and TE Adam Breneman.

 

The Minutemen are better than they were last year, when they almost knocked off Hawaii on the road. This time around, I expect them to finish the job. Hawaii’s defense is undermanned, and it’ll have issues throughout the day keeping Ford and company off the scoreboard.


USF (-21.5) vs. San Jose State


Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

Analysis:


 

These teams have almost nothing in common, but they both spent the spring and summer trying to learn new offensive systems that are very much alike. USF brought in Charlie Strong and OC Sterlin Gilbert from Texas.

 

Gilbert runs an offense similar to Baylor’s old system under Art Briles. Gilbert apprenticed under Dino Babers and Phil Montgomery, both Briles disciples. New San Jose State HC Brent Brennan, meanwhile, hired another Babers understudy in 28-year-old whiz kid Andrew Sowder.

  

The Bulls have the players to run that system. The Spartans don’t. Not yet.

 

San Jose State has a question mark at quarterback and precious few playmakers at the skill positions. The offensive line is experienced, so they have that going for them.

 

The Spartans also coughed up 35 ppg last year, bad news with Quinton Flowers and friends coming to town. SJSU was particularly bad against the run last year, so expect a huge game out of D’Ernest Johnson. Flowers himself is a threat to drop 100 rushing yards on this unit.

 

I rarely lay this many points on the road. In truth, I’m only making a pick for this game because of this weekend’s thin slate; normally, this would be a stay-away. But if I’m making a pick, I’d rather be uncomfortable laying big points with the Group of 5’s best team than holding my nose taking one of the Group of 5’s worst teams and hoping for the best.


 

Stanford (-31.5) vs. Rice (in Sydney, Australia)


Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

Analysis:


Too many points to lay this far away from home. Last year, on the Farm, Stanford beat Rice 41-17 in the regular-season finale. The Cardinal were 34-point favorites that day. They raced out to a 20-0 lead, but then did as they do, grinding out the clock with a risk-averse offensive strategy.

 

Expect much of the same in Australia. Stanford is probably 35 points or so better on a neutral field, but they have far more incentive to get this game over with and return to the mainland healthy than they do pouring it on to blow out Rice by five touchdowns or more.

 

In its first game without Christian McCaffrey, expect Stanford to experiment with different looks on offense while they try to hammer out an identity for more important games down the road. In recent years, Stanford has used openers against patsies for precisely this reason: They’re 7-1 SU over their last eight openers, but only 1-4 ATS in the last five.

 

Rice returns 15 starters from a team that went 3-1 ATS when getting 20-plus points last year. The Owls were terrible out of the gate last year, but they were competitive down the stretch after RB Samuel Stewart returned healthy. Expect Rice to stay this within the number.

 

****


2016 Record: Straight-Up: 112-61 (64.7%); Against the Spread: 96-72-5 (57.1%)

 

2015 Record: Straight-Up: 120-64 (65.2%); Against the Spread: 91-88-5 (50.8%)

 

2014 Record: Straight-Up: 118-72 (62.1%); Against the Spread: 99-90-1 (52.4%)

 



Thor Nystrom is a former MLB.com associate reporter whose writing has been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to Rotoworld's college football writer on Twitter @thorku.
Email :Thor Nystrom



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